My family wanted to do something special for my hospice clients for Christmas. So, my wife gathered the grandkids and a dozen different finger snacks, coated them with sugar (the snacks not the grandkids) and then bagged them up (the snacks not the grandkids) I assured my clients the kids were sanitized first.
My daughter and her husband also donated wild and crazy socks for each patient. (from www.wehelptwo.com). I delivered the gifts as I made my rounds and my hospice friends loved them.
BUT that evening I got a text from one of our nurses who asked, “Did you really give Mr. So and So a pair of socks?”
OK why would she should ask that? Oh no! Maybe because Mr. So and So is a diabetic who has had both of his legs amputated. I can’t believe I forgot that!
I think that’s what they call a faux pas which the dictionary defines as, “an embarrassing or tactless act or remark in a social situation.” The online dictionary people called and asked if they could post my picture with the definition.
So, I contritely admitted to her that, “Yes, I gave him those socks. But he said, “thank you!”
Oh well at least the nurse didn’t see the bag of sweets that I left my diabetic friend.
I guess that sometimes a good thing may not be so good.
The apostle Paul understood this which is why he penned Ephesians 4:29, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” – New American Standard Updated ®
He warns us to watch our mouths – to make sure that nothing unwholesome emerges. That word “unwholesome” is translated from the Greek word “scubala” which was used to describe the garbage back in Jesus’ day. “Honey did you take out the scubala?”
Don’t be a garbage mouth says Paul. We need to speak edifying words – words that build up and strengthen and encourage others.
But even that isn’t enough says Paul. Those edifying words, need to be “according to the need of the moment.” – appropriate for the time and place and circumstances.
I might tell my wife that her hair looks nice. If we were on a date, she might blush in appreciation BUT if we happened to be in the middle of an argument instead, she might be red with rage. The compliment would feel to her more like a distraction, or that I wasn’t listening, or that I wanted to change the subject or whatever.
Paul says not only do we need to do and say good things, we need to make sure that they fit the context. He tells us that when we do, “it gives grace to those who hear.” People are encouraged and empowered and strengthened when we consider them in this way.
A TEST: Suppose a friend has just dropped his cell phone in the toilet. Which response would give grace to him?
1) Riotous laughter (tempting but no)
2) You could say “It’s a good thing that God loves clumsy people.” (affirming and yet demeaning – no)
3) You might say, “Some people were not meant to have a cell phone.” (pretty much scubala)
4) Or how about this, “You don’t need to play FreeCell in the bathroom” (he needs grace not a lecture.)
5) OK what if you said, “I’m sorry. Can I help you fish that out?”
That last option is very much “according to the need of the moment.” It is full of empathy and withholds judgment. It puts you beside him and not behind a lectern and the offer to help rescue the phone is priceless. You might want to add, “uh, where do you keep the rubber gloves?”
I blew it with my hospice friend. But we talked and laughed about it and he gave me permission to share it so that you are better able to speak to the “need of the moment.”
PS: He also told me that he was wearing his socks!